The Secret Quests : Caen

The mysteries of Caen

Visit the Caen tourist office to start your quest and follow in the footsteps of William the Conqueror.

Stage 1 | The Hôtel d'Escoville

Knights, our quest begins here! Here is a truly typical example of a 16th century town house! Its interior courtyard pays a fine tribute to the rich ornamentation of Italian influence that was adopted in the early Renaissance period. You can even see two splendid Tubulcaïns, biblical figures believed to have invented strength.
The mystery

One of the statues here represents David, famous for having slain a giant. Do you know the giant's name?
I see your adventure is off to a good start, fellow knight! Let's hurry to the Church of Saint-Pierre!
Wrong answer! What if I tell you the giant had a rather unusual name?
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A short history lesson

The edifice was built from 1535 to 1538 by Nicolas Le Valois d'Escoville. This rich trader was looking for a private mansion in keeping with his rank and his fortune.

Stage 2 | The Church of Saint-Pierre

Here we are at last! Inside the famous 12th century Church of Saint-Pierre (St. Peter). At the time, it was considered to be the most important and the richest in the city. It is a fine illustration of the entire evolution of Norman Gothic architecture. The church is famous for its spire, considered to be a model of Norman Gothic church spires, and for its Renaissance chevet, a genuine masterpiece
The mystery

Look carefully at the superb church facade. What shape is the main window?
Well done! Don't waste a second and head for the Tour Leroy.
By Jove no - open your peepers! Try something circular and you'll find the right answer.
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A short history lesson

Since the Church of Saint-Pierre is built on the town's medieval port, its foundations of on piles. Certain period engravings depict the River Odon flowing round the church apse; it was in the 19th century that a canal was created, later to be buried under the present-day Boulevard du Maréchal Leclerc.

Stage 3 | Tour Leroy

Tour Leroy is a tower built in the late 14th century to defend the entrance to the medieval port. It is one of the most important vestiges of the town's fortifications. Proudly looming at the foot of the castle, it also bears witness to Caen's importance as a harbour town.
The mystery

Many of the region's historic monuments are built using a specific type of limestone and the Tour Leroy is one of them. Do you know its name?
Congratulations! Let's now head for Bourg l'Abesse for your next riddle.
Don't look so far away - we are talking about a local material!
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A short history lesson

Initially referred to as 'Guillaume-le-roy', this tower is the conurbation's last surviving high tower of historic importance. It was originally part of the ramparts that surrounded the Bourg-le-Roi, including the castle.

Stage 4 | Bourg l'Abbesse

Located close to the marina, this popular inner suburb was referred to as 'Bourg l'Abess' prior to the French Revolution. The houses of wealthy craftsmen, poor quarrymen and lacemakers rubbed shoulders along its Rue Haute. Charlotte de Corday d'Armont, famous for having murdered Marat, spent part of her childhood here.
The mystery

Bourg l'Abesse owed its name to what nearby major site?
Absolutely - I'm impressed! The Ladies' Abbey still has a few surprises in store for you. You can discover them inside.
Good try! Look for a truly feminine reference...
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A short history lesson

Bourg l'Abesse was an extremely rural setting that was, over many years, subjected to somewhat haphazard urbanisation. If we take a look at a 17th century map, we can see that the houses had enclosed plots. Farming was one of the leading economic activities here.

Stage 5 | The Ladies' Abbey

Founded by my lady-love as a penance for our marriage, for I am her distant cousin, the Ladies' Abbey originally housed Benedictine nuns. An abbess, generally chosen from the noblest of Norman families, was named to oversee them. The monastic buildings were acquired by the Lower Normandy Regional Council in 1983. Today they house the region's administrative services.
The mystery

I am William the Conqueror's wife and I am behind the initiative to build the Ladies' Abbey. I am laid to rest here since 1083. I am:
Decidedly, my life story is no secret to you! The vestiges of the Church of Saint-Gilles are no more than ruins today.
Oh no, that's not the name of my sweetheart. Here's a clue: Her Flemish name is Mathilda van Vlaanderen.
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A short history lesson

Home to forty nuns, the Ladies' Abbey enjoyed peaceful times up to the 14th century. Fortified during the Hundred Years' War, the English nevertheless succeeded in capturing the abbey which was sadly ransacked and desecrated during the 16th century wars of religion.

Stage 6 | The Church of Saint-Gilles

This early Christian edifice was 26 feet wide and at least 65 feet long. The base of the walls is in blocked up raw stone, whereas the roof was very probably thatched. The first text to mention this church dates from between 1066 and 1082.
The mystery

During which war was the edifice destroyed by bombing?
By George, what connoisseurs you are! Another church awaits you... let's ride to Saint-Sépulcre!
Goodness no! The correct answer is the most recent of the 3.
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A short history lesson

The Church of Saint-Gilles' history is an eventful one. First of all, the church choir was demolished in the 19th century following changes in the road network and despite great protest. In 1865, it lost its status as a parish church, attributed to the Holy Trinity, and was finally bombed in 1944.

Stage 7 | The Church of Saint-Sépulcre

On his return from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Guillaume Acarin, a citizen from Caen, had a church built in 1219 to place a piece of the True Cross. The church was pillaged in 1346, then in 1417 by the English during the Hundred Years' War, whereas the collegiate was demolished in August 1562 on orders from Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne, Duke of Bouillon and governor of Normandy.
The mystery

Built in homage to the Saint Sepulchre of Jerusalem, my name refers to:
Well done, let's hurry now! We must go to the Vaugueux quarter for the next step.
By Jove no! It is neither a cup nor a book.
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A short history lesson

On Palm Sunday, processions set off from the town's many parishes to adore the holy relic. The church was deconsecrated during the French Revolution and used, in the 19th century, as an artillery store for the regiment that was posted in the nearby castle.

Stage 8 | The Vaugueux quarter

The name Vaugueux designates both a street and a quarter, both of which are hidden away at the foot of the castle. The first mention of Rue du Vaugueux dates back to 1210; the street later gave its name to an inner suburb developed at the foot of the Saint-Sépulcre collegiate. This popular quarter, located between the Castle and the harbour, was once ill-famed. Due to its location, the Vaugueux quarter has always been a strategic crossroads. Before heading off for the next phase, take the time to admire the large arches on the buildings in Rue Froide which, as from the 15th century, became home to many printers.
The mystery

Find out which old expression is behind my name:
How clever you are! Let's gallop to the Rue Froide!
The correct answer is very similar to the resulting name.
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A short history lesson

A large share of the quarter suffered fire damage when the town was seized by Henry V of England in 1417. It is interesting to note that Edith Piaf's grandparents owned a café in Rue Porte au Berger in the early 20th century.

Stage 9 | Rue Froide

This narrow winding street in Caen's old quarters has preserved all its medieval charm. Its name, which literally means 'cold street', comes from the fact that the sun rarely shines here and cannot warm up its dark and damp atmosphere. The facades of the cramped houses in Rue Froide all have a corridor that leads to an inner courtyard. All the rooms arranged around this courtyard, stretch out inside the surrounding buildings.
The mystery

What profession, that was widespread throughout Caen, used to be particular to this street?
My fellow knights - you have all the right answers! Your journey now continues in Place Saint-Sauveur!
Yikes - not at all! What if I tell you that this profession is connected with paper?
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A short history lesson

Just like Saint-Porchaire in Poitiers, the Church of Notre-Dame-de-Froide-Rue is one of France's rare churches with a double nave. Construction of the present-day church dates from the 14th to the 16th centuries, no vestiges remaining of the original Romanesque edifice.

Stage 10 | Place Saint-Sauveur

This is the spot where, every Monday and every Friday, markets and other events, such as fairs, were held. Yet, the square has not always been the site of festivities, for it was, for many years, used for capital and public executions.
The mystery

What other name was given to Place Saint-Sauveur?
My congratulations dear knights! Let's waste no time and gallop to the Men's Abbey.
By Jove no! It has no connection with a historic figure.
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A short history lesson

In the Middle Ages, public sentences and executions were for 3 reasons. Everyone knew who had been sentenced and why, hence discouraging the population from committing any further crimes. Yet the most shameful of reasons was that the public genuinely appreciated the spectacle offered by death.

Stage 11 | The Men's Abbey

Founded in 1063, upon my personal orders, and devoted to Saint-Etienne (St. Stephen), the Men's Abbey was home to Benedictine monks who spent their lives praying and studying. It also welcomed pilgrims on their way to the Mont Saint-Michel. Transformed into a high school in 1804, the abbey served as a refuge for the local population during the Battle of Caen in 1944. Today it houses the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall and Council).
The mystery

Founded on his request, the Men's Abbey is home since 1087 to his grave. Who is he?
Of course it's me! I was right to place my trust in you. Malherbe's birthplace now awaits you for your second last phase!
By George, how could you forget the name of your guide throughout this whole adventure! In France they call me Guillaume le Conquérant.
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A short history lesson

Devoted to Saint-Etienne (St. Stephen) in 1063, the Men's Abbey abbey-church was solemnly consecrated in 1077. Originally built in pure Romanesque style, it was transformed in the 13th century with the addition of a Gothic choir and ambulatory.

Stage 12 | Half-timbered houses

On your way here, you very probably noticed two pretty half-timbered houses in Rue Saint-Pierre boasting a medley of Flamboyant and Renaissance ornamentation. Built in the early 16th century, these two houses also comprise the traditional stone that was used for most of the houses in Caen.
The mystery

At what numbers in Rue Saint-Pierre can we admire these superb half-timbered houses?
Well done! Caen Castle impatiently awaits you.
Open your peepers! They are separated by just one number.
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A short history lesson

Following an edict in 1735, the town's aldermen asked home owners to replace their old houses - most of which were in half-timbering - by new buildings according to a specific architectural programme. Their harmonious and regular alignment is only punctuated by a few private mansions with triangular pediments.

Stage 13 | Caen Castle

On your way, you very surely came across the house where the most famous of Caen's poets, François de Malherbe (1555-1628) was born. Malherbe's name is everywhere throughout the town of Caen, from the football team to the printers. Caen Castle was founded in the Middle Ages, around the year 1060, and many alterations have been made since. It is located on a rocky spur and overlooks a marshy valley where the River Orne and its tributaries flow. With a surface area of 5.5 hectares, it is one of the largest castle enclosures in Europe. Almost all of the castle's buildings and vestiges are listed as historic monuments since 1997.

The trail

Places to eat nearby

  • La Petite Marmite 43 rue des Jacobins
    14000 CAEN
    Tel : 02 31 86 15 20
  • Le Guibull Café 51 rue St Michel
    14000 CAEN
  • le Gibus Restaurant 17 bis rue des Tilleuls
    14000 CAEN
    Tel : 02 31 86 01 33 Visit the website
  • Cuisine et Cave 11 rue de la Dronnière
    14123 IFS
    Tel : 02 31 84 52 51 Visit the website
  • Restaurant O Chef 3 Chemin de la Cavée
    Route de Paris
    14120 MONDEVILLE

Places to sleep nearby

  • Hôtel Bristol 31 rue du 11 Novembre
    14000 CAEN
    Tel : 02 31 84 59 76 Visit the website
  • Hôtel des Quatrans 17 rue Gémare
    14000 CAEN
    Tel : 02 31 86 25 57 Visit the website
  • Hôtel Bernières 50 rue de Bernières
    14000 CAEN
    Tel : 02 31 86 01 26 Visit the website
  • Hôtel Le Vaucelles 13 rue de Vaucelles
    14000 CAEN
    Tel : 02 31 82 23 14
  • Best Hôtel Caen Citis Avenue du Général de Gaulle
    14200 HEROUVILLE-SAINT-CLAIR
    Tel : 02 31 47 40 00 Visit the website
  • Hôtel B&B Caen Mémorial Rue du clos Barbey
    Zac du clos Barbey
    14280 SAINT-CONTEST
    Tel : 08 92 70 75 17 Visit the website

See also...

  • La Bataille de Val ès Dunes 14370 ARGENCES Tel : 02 31 85 38 82 Visit the website
  • Abbaye aux Hommes Hôtel de Ville
    Esplanade Jean-Marie Louvel
    14027 CAEN
    Tel : 02 31 30 42 81 Visit the website
  • Abbaye aux Dames Région Normandie
    Place Reine Mathilde
    14000 CAEN
    Tel : 02 31 06 98 45 Visit the website
  • Château de Caen 14000 CAEN Tel : 02 31 30 47 90 Visit the website
  • Eglise Abbatiale de la Trinité Place Reine Mathilde
    14000 CAEN
    Tel : 02 31 86 13 11 Visit the website
  • Cimetière Militaire Britannique 14610 CAMBES-EN-PLAINE Tel : 02 31 27 14 14
  • Parc et Jardin du Château d'Outrelaise Outrelaise
    14680 GOUVIX
    Tel : 02 31 79 03 64 Visit the website
  • Ornavik, des Vikings aux Normands - Parc historique Domaine de Beauregard
    14200 HEROUVILLE-SAINT-CLAIR
    Tel : 02 31 52 40 90 Visit the website
  • Cimetière Militaire Britannique 14250 THUE ET MUE Tel : 02 31 27 14 14